Budget forces transfer of county program; Sebastopol to take 100

SONOMA COUNTY — Two networks of community health centers will take on an additional 500 patients from the county, which shuttered the doors of its HIV clinic in late June.

Santa Rosa Community Health Centers, formerly Southwest, and West County Health Centers will absorb about 400 and 100 new HIV patients, respectively, in the coming months as the cash-strapped county looks for cost-saving measures while federally qualified health centers continue to see an increase in demand and federal funding.

The Santa Rosa Health Centers will provide for the influx in patients at its new Fountaingrove site, set to open in November, and the Sebastopol Community Health Center will be the primary location for West County Health Centers patients, officials say.

Brian Griffiths, who previously worked for the county and will now head up the HIV practice for the Santa Rosa health centers, said the change in providers is reflective of numerous changes occurring in the health care field.

“To me, the theme of this whole thing is about how the county has stepped back from providing services. HIV was one of the biggest clinical offerings, and the health centers really stepped up,” he said. “It wasn’t just about ability. A lot of it had to do with budget realities. But it’s such an interesting thing to see this shift from county care to health centers providing community clinic care. It marks a sea change in how medical services are delivered to patients, and when medical access expands in the next five to 10 years, I think we’re going to see this is really shifting and taking on a much bigger role in the county.”

The county clinic, which has operated for 20 years, saw on average about 550 HIV patients a year and provided mental health, primary care and nutritional advice, Mr. Griffiths said.

While the new Santa Rosa center awaits completion, the new HIV patients will be seen at the former county location on Humboldt Street in Santa Rosa, which Santa Rosa Community Health Centers will operate until it can move into the new site. Meanwhile, Sebastopol Health Center has doubled in size over the past year, in part because of the increase in HIV patients.

Former county employees who were working at the HIV center on Humboldt Street will mostly shift into roles with each health center, Mr. Griffiths said, adding that only a few new hires were brought on.

Despite the county cuts, Mr. Griffiths said treatment of the HIV patients at the health centers is perhaps more advantageous than having the county run the program.

“There are so many benefits of having the HIV center within the health center,” he said. “There is a lot of expertise on hand, and the mission is really in line with the county clinic. And that just works really well to have it at the health center, where there will be sort of a blend of health center experience and HIV experience.”

The new Santa Rosa site will serve an increase of 9,500 patients a year on top of the 25,000 patients it already serves. Sebastopol Health Center said it is expecting an increase of 1,500 patients in the near future on top of the 4,500 it already serves